New Castle News

July 24, 2012

Phil Heron: Vindictive NCAA throws dirt on Paterno's grave

Phil Heron
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — This is not going to be a popular opinion today. I feel sorry for Joe Paterno. Penn State avoided the so-called “death penalty” yesterday; Paterno’s legacy did not.

The NCAA came down like a ton of bricks on Happy Valley, all but dismantling what was once the Pride of Paterno, and what was widely heralded as a shining light for all of college football.

They are paying a huge price for the fallout from the Jerry Sandusky affair, no one more than Paterno.

The poobahs at the NCAA fined the school $60 million, roughly equivalent to one year’s revenue from the football program; they will be banned from bowl games for four years; they are losing 40 scholarships.

But that, apparently, was not enough.

The NCAA, in a move clearly directed at tarnishing Paterno’s legacy and legendary status as one of the icons of college football, vacated all Penn State victories from 1998 through 2011.

Hence, Joe Paterno is no longer the winningest coach in NCAA Division I history. Not even close. In fact he tumbles to 12th.

Talk about kicking a man when he is down.

Call me soft-hearted, but I think this was overkill. Make no mistake. I was actually in favor of the death penalty. I do not want Penn State to play football this year. For some I reason I am sickened by the thought of 100,000 people packing that stadium and cheering as those familiar blue and white uniforms come charging out of the tunnel.

But I think I am sickened even more by the vindictiveness shown by the NCAA in meting out their punishment for Nittany Nation yesterday.

“Football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing and protecting young people,” said NCAA President Mark Emmert in bringing the hammer down on Penn State.

I think he even said it with a straight face.

It’s clear the line of demarcation was chosen as 1998 because, according to the Freeh Report, that is when the initial incident involving Sandusky became known to school officials, including Paterno.

If his mission was to prove a point to the rest of college football and the nation that the kind of behavior that allows the Jerry Sanduskys of the world to fester and victimize innocent children, then I say this: Mission Accomplished.

Do I think much will change when it comes to big-time college football? No.

Will kids be protected? I certainly hope so.

Was it necessary to destroy a lifetime of good in the process. I don’t think so.

Go ahead, call me a hypocrite. Yes, I was the guy who was hammering Paterno for the way he handled the Sandusky affair. It’s beyond my comprehension that he didn’t know what Sandusky was up to, and I cvlearly don't think he did nearly enough enough to stop it.

But that should not invalidate the rest of Paterno's life, much of which was dedicated to crafting young lives and building a rural campus in the boodocks of central Pennsylvania into an educational powerhouse that equals anything they did on the football field.

The statue of Joe Paterno has been taken down. It was left to the NCAA to dismantle his legacy.

It’s still kind of hard to believe how far – and how quickly – Paterno fell. Of course, it’s easy to dump on someone when they’re not here to defend themselves.

Joe Paterno is dead and buried.

But that didn’t stop the NCAA from throwing a little more dirt on his grave.